American Railroads

News each weekday of American railroads. Our focus is on freight rail, but Amtrak and commuter rail are also essential ingredients. Nothing published on holidays.

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Location: Middleburg (Jacksonville), Florida, United States

Published in Trains magazine, Railfan & Railroad, Passenger Train Journal

Tuesday, August 29, 2006

AR – Wednesday, August 30, 2006

Ernesto hits Florida;

John heads westerly

By Leo King

Editor

Fragmented but still a tropical storm, Ernesto departed Cuba and churned toward Florida. By yesterday afternoon, it was attacking South Florida.

Meanwhile, a category 3 hurricane, located in the eastern Pacific Ocean off the Mexico coast, is heading northwest toward Southern California.

Forecaster located Hurricane John near latitude 14.4 north, longitude 99.7 west, or about 175 miles south of Acapulco.

John is moving toward the west-northwest near 10 mph, and this motion is expected to continue for the next 24 hours.

Maximum sustained winds are near 115 mph with higher gusts.

“Some strengthening is forecast during the next 24 hours and John could become a category four hurricane,” forecasters warned.

Hurricane force winds extend outward up to 30 miles from the center, and tropical storm force winds extend outward up to 125 miles.

Tropical Storm Ernesto got most of the media attention in the Eastern U.S.

The National Weather Service (NWS) office in Jacksonville issued tropical storm warnings for portions of northeast Florida and southeast Georgia at 11:01 a.m.

Its forecast track takes the storm across Portions of northeast Florida on Wednesday night and offshore along southeast Georgia by Thursday morning. The NWS warned, “While there is always uncertainty in the exact track, you should not focus on the track of the center.”

Seven more Florida counties were added to the storm-warning list, all in the northeast part of the state, both along the coast and about 50 miles inland.

Two Georgia counties were also included.

At 5:00 p.m. EDT, the storm center was near latitude 24.3 north by longitude 80.2 west. Its movement is toward the northwest near 13 mph. Its maximum sustained winds are 45 mph. Storm watch notices were posted throughout the South Florida region from New Smyrna Beach on the east coast around the tip of the peninsula to the west coast community of Bonita Beach, and all the Florida Keys.

The center was about 105 miles south-southeast of Miami.

Ernesto is moving toward the northwest near 13 mph and is expected to continue for the next 24 hours.

Railroads in the state had already taken precautions.

Florida Tri-rail service was “suspended for Tuesday, August 29 and until further notice,” the South Florida commuter rail service stated on its web site, “due to the severe weather conditions anticipated from tropical storm Ernesto.”

Amtrak reported today its Silver Star, train No. 92, and Silver Meteor, train No. 98 will originate in Orlando.

Amtrak planned no alternate transportation connecting from points south of Orlando for these two trains.

Most likely because buses would not be able to get over the roads, just as trains would not be likely to move over the tracks, with trees downed and grade crossing signals out of service.

CSXT discontinued freight service northbound out of the Miami area, including the Miami and Homestead subdivisions, on Tuesday.

Service north of Auburndale – in Lakeland, Tampa and Orlando – “will continue as normal until further notice.”

FEC annulled all southbound and all northbound trains after Tuesday’s No. 208, according to sources, except for Nos. 119 and 220. Employees will be further advised as storm progresses as to when normal schedule resumes.

The storm cent4r will be near the Florida Keys or southeast Florida tonight. Its maximum sustained winds remain near 45 mph with higher gusts.

Some strengthening is forecast before the center reaches Florida.

The weather service added, “Boats and vulnerable property along the coast should be secured. Dangerous rip currents will also develop as the storm approaches.”

Tides may reach one to two feet above normal especially along the Georgia coast Wednesday night and Thursday morning.

Winds are expected to begin to increase in the warning area of the northeast Florida coastal areas to 40 to 50 mph with higher gusts by Wednesday evening and 30 to 40 mph with higher gusts away from the coast.

Winds of 40 to 50 mph will spread into the Georgia coastal areas Wednesday night and Thursday morning.

The threat of tornadoes with this system will not be significant, according to the NWS, but “There will be the possibility of isolated tornadoes in stronger bands mainly along the coast.”

Kummant is new Amtrak boss

Amtrak’s directors yesterday appointed Alexander Kummant as president and CEO. The veteran railroad and industrial executive will assume duties September 12.

Kummant previously served as a regional vice-president of the Union Pacific Railroad, overseeing 6,000 transportation, engineering, construction, mechanical, and other employees supporting an 8,000-mile rail network. He also served as the UPs vice-president and general manager of Industrial Products, a $2 billion revenue business. In leading both units, Kummant was responsible for substantially improved customer service, on-time delivery of client products, and significant gains in financial and operational performance.

Additionally at UP, Kummant held the role of vice-president of Premium Operations, overseeing intermodal and automotive network performance.

Most recently, Kummant served as the executive vice-president and chief marketing officer of Komatsu America Corp., a division of the second largest supplier of construction equipment worldwide.

Kummants first job on the railroad came at age 18 in Lorain, Ohio, working on a track crew for the Lake Terminal Railroad at the U.S. Steel Lorain Works.

“Alex Kummant has the outstanding credentials and experience to lead a changing Amtrak that is more customer-focused and fiscally responsible,” said Amtrak chairman David M. Laney.

“His appointment fulfills the board’s commitment to select an extraordinarily strong and capable leader for Amtrak’s future, building on the growing national desire for more and improved passenger rail service.”

Kummant fills a position that has been held by David J. Hughes in the interim since November 2005, after the board fired CEO David Gunn.

Formerly Chief Engineer of Amtrak, Hughes will continue to serve with the railroad in a yet to be specified capacity.

“For the past nine months, David Hughes has stepped in and performed exceptionally in leading our strategic reforms and operational improvements,” said Laney.

He added, “On behalf of the Amtrak Board of Directors, he has our deepest admiration and respect, and we are delighted that he will continue to play an important role in Amtrak’s future.”

A native of Ohio, Kummant holds a B.S. degree in mechanical engineering from Case Western Reserve Univ., a master’s degree in manufacturing engineering from Carnegie Mellon Univ. and an M.B.A. from Stanford Univ. He is married to Kathleen Regan Kummant, a former senior executive with the Santa Fe and BNSF railroads.

Study indicates commuting stress

may worsen health concerns

For years, the prevailing New Jersey commuter philosophy has been when the driving gets tough, the tough get a railpass.

Commuting by train is also stressful, according to a new study that found the longer the rail commute, the higher the strain. With every passing mile, there is an impact not only on physical and psychological well-being, but also on the ability to complete simple tasks, the study concluded.

“We’ve known for a long time that there is a correlation between stress of driving in congested commuter traffic and heart attacks,” said Richard Wener, a professor of environmental psychology at Polytechnic Univ. and one of the study’s authors. The story appeared in Tuesday’s Newark Star-Ledger.

“With this study, we are suggesting that the stress of long train commutes may pose a similar health problem,” added Wener, who commutes by train every day from his Maplewood home to his classes in Brooklyn.

“Trains are not as stressful as cars at rush hour, but even a relatively minor stressor, several hours a day, every day of the year, can build to a health risk.”

New Jersey commuters were studied because rail commuting here is “worse than in most places,” Wener said. The expansion of suburbia here also means the average rail commute is getting longer and longer.

Sitting on the train last night, returning from a hard day in Manhattan, few commuters were surprised at the study results.

“Of course the ride is stressful; everybody is pretty much in a daze after they get off the train,” said accounting firm manager Mike D’Angelo, whose commute between Denville and Manhattan takes about 70 minutes. “If I could afford to move closer, like to Summit, of course I would.”

Food buyer Joseph Cammarta, who commutes to New York from Dover, complained that the seats are too tight and passengers are jammed between bags, but added that the real bother “is cell phones. That’s where the stress comes in.”

The researchers studied 208 commuters taking trains from New Jersey to Manhattan on the Midtown Direct line. The subjects, who ranged in age from 25 to 60, commuted at least three days a week and had been on the same route for at least 12 months.

The complete story is online at http://www.nj.com/search/index.ssf?/base/news-8/1156827580271420.xml?starledger?ntop&coll=1

SEPTA gets bomb detectors

Southeastern Pennsylvania Transportation Authority (SEPTA) and HiEnergy Technologies, Inc. (OTC:HIET) demonstrated the successful deployment of the SIEGMA(TM) 3E3, HiEnergy Technologies’ novel Atometer(TM) explosive detection system today in Philadelphia.

HiEnergy is a homeland security industry leader in neutron-based diagnostic technology and creator of the world’s first “stoichiometric” devices. They can effectively decipher chemical formulas of unknown substances through metal or other barriers, almost instantly and without human intervention.

Dr. Bogdan Maglich, HiEnergy’s Chairman and Chief Scientist, said, “Initial results of the first commercial deployment of our Atometer model have exceeded our expectations.”

The Siegma model 3E3 is described as a mobile, suitcase-borne explosive detection and confirmation system, incorporating the firm’s “Atometry” technology. The device can detect and confirm whether an object or container carries a select group of dangerous or illicit substances, such as explosives, biological agents, or illicit drugs, with a probability of detection equal to approximately 97.75 percent, and “false negative” and “false positive” rates of nearly 2.25 percent.

MBTA wants some feedback

The Massachusetts Bay Transportation Authority is introducing new upgrades to select subway trains over the next few weeks and, if riders agree with the changes, let the MBTA know – or they won’t last long, the “T” said in Boston yesterday.

The MBTA reported it installed new, graffiti-proof seat cushions, system maps and overhead grab handles to an Orange Line train and put it in service on Friday for a test-drive.

“We’re doing a makeover,” MBTA General Manager Daniel Grabauskas said.

“We want to hear from commuters about if they like the changes.”

Currently, the MBTA subway trains have imitation leather seats – many of which have black graffiti defacing them, gum, and large tears. In a given year, the T replaces 2,000 to 2,500 seats due to damage, primarily graffiti, costing them $18 a seat cushion, Grabauskas said.

“We keep duct-taping them together and they don’t look good,” he added.

The new seats are made of a thick wool-like material that is woven with thin pieces of metal to resist cutting. Grabauskas calls them virtually damage-proof.

“I watched a demonstration where someone took a razor and hacked up the seat and it didn’t cut.”

The fabric is also multicolored, making it difficult for graffiti to be visible.

“It’s not a blank palette for a creative young vandal to put his name on it,” he said.

The grab handles were placed in four spots throughout each Orange Line car primarily for the use of shorter people who strain to reach the overhead bar, and older or disabled riders who need assistance standing up, Grabauskas said.

Right now, the T only has maps in each subway car that displays the line the rider is traveling on; the upgraded train was outfitted with several system maps.

This allows riders to conveniently plot out their entire travel plans if they are switching lines, he said.

Within the next few weeks each line will have one fully upgraded train, giving commuters in each system the chance to weigh in. Then, after hearing from commuters, the T will make the decision whether to go forward with the new changes, Grabauskas said.

CP may give up some tracks

Canadian Pacific Ry. has placed six branch lines on its Canadian Transportation Act (CTA) Three-Year Network Plan for potential discontinuance, due to low traffic volumes on them. The decision came Thursday after a detailed assessment that showed these lines were not viable for the railway over the long term.

By registering the lines on the CTA three-year plan, CPR took the first step in a federally legislated process that governs potential discontinuance of rail lines, which includes a framework for interested groups to consider these lines for continued operations.

The six branch lines added to the CTA Three-Year Plan are:

· Glenboro line (MB), between Rathwell and Page – 62.8 miles.

· Gravelbourg line (SK), between Mossbank Junction and Hodgeville – 53.8 miles.

· Hatton line (SK), between Hatton and Golden Prairie – 17.7 miles.

· Macklin line (SK), between Luseland and Macklin – 28.1 miles.

· Tyvan line (SK), between Stoughton and Whitmore – 82.5 miles.

· Former Macleod line (AB), between Aldersyde and High River – 3.7 miles.

Line discontinuance will take place in accordance with the process established in the Canada Transportation Act, CP stated. Under CTA provisions, lines slated for discontinuance must first be offered for sale to the shortline marketplace for continued rail operation, and then to governments before the railway can discontinue its operations. Unless new rail operators are found for these lines, CP may discontinue operations in accordance with Canada’s Transportation Act.

CPR’s existing 13,500-mile rail network in Canada and the U.S. continues to include more than 5,200 route miles of track through Manitoba, Saskatchewan and Alberta.

Opinion

Gunn’s view

The former president of Amtrak, David L. Gunn, said that the U.S. is facing a transportation crisis soon that could have a negative effect on the entire American economy.

“There are people in the Department of Transportation, they are lower-level appointed people so they are not just bureaucrats, who firmly believe that one of the big crises that is going to arise over the next three or four years is going to be a transportation crisis.”

“If the U.S. loses mobility for freight and passengers, you will have seriously impacted the economy of the country. We have always had, both for Canada and the U.S., great mobility for freight and passengers. If that is gone and destroyed and you are unable to move goods surely and people with reliability and safety, I think it is going to become an enormous problem.

“And if you don’t approach it in a logical fashion, just dumping money on it, isn’t going to fix it,” added Gunn.

Gunn made his comments on the Right Hour, an Internet-based radio program hosted by Free Congress Foundation Chairman Paul M. Weyrich. The recorded program is available at the FCF News Website at http://www.fcfnewsondemand.org/righttalk.asp.

“Gunn was fired by Amtrak for doing the right thing,” said Weyrich.

Gunn stated that the department has not properly identified or analyzed, in general, the country’s upcoming transportation needs, or, specifically, the future role of passenger rail. “I think the problem is that this administration has viewed Amtrak as an expense. There was no sign of intelligent leadership at DOT.

And so, you have these problems that I mentioned: the congestion of the freight railroads, the congestion of the highway system, and the congestion in the air. It’s not getting better, it’s getting worse and the current way of approaching it is not working. This DOT has never even dealt with that problem. They haven’t scoped it out; that haven’t put alternatives out on the table.

“They haven’t viewed passenger rail, properly run, as a solution. Amtrak just became a ‘budget exercise,’ I think, so the goal was just to eliminate the cost, without any sense that there is a tradeoff here. If you destroy the Northeast Corridor, you save in Amtrak subsidy; capital and operating (expense) is a billion, four. The whole Northeast Corridor may consume a half billion a year, mostly capital. If you destroy the Northeast Corridor, the cost of replicating that capacity on highway and in air will far exceed that to the government – yet they haven’t even made these tradeoffs, they haven’t made this analysis. There hasn’t even been a logical discussion of it. It is sort of like whistling by the graveyard.

Gunn added, “I firmly believe that the government has a role in infrastructure. That has historically been one of the government’s roles from the time the republic was founded, whether it was the canals, roads, (or) whatever. Making sure that you have an adequate transportation infrastructure is a governmental function. And it’s not being viewed that way at the present time, in fact the whole transportation network is basically reaching crisis proportions whether you look at highways and urban areas or freight railroads, which are just becoming terribly congested, or passenger rail.”

“Amtrak should be the ‘springboard’ from which you see corridors built up in urban areas…” he stated. Gunn predicts that Amtrak will “muddle through” until the next (Presidential) election because it is still has the support of Congress. In the long run, Amtrak is “the keeper of the flame” for intercity passenger rail, he said.

Gunn served in the U.S. Naval Reserve and is a graduate of Harvard College and the Harvard School of Business Administration. He was employed by three major railroads and managed commuter transit systems in Boston, Philadelphia, New York City, Washington, D.C. and Toronto. He now lives in Nova Scotia.

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